While Denis Shapovalov climbs the ATP rankings, another Canadian is hot on his tail.
Felix Auger-Aliassime’s victory in a Challenger tournament in Seville, Spain last week moved the 17-year-old into the world’s top 200 at No. 168 on Monday, only a month after the 18-year-old Shapovalov cracked the top 100 with his run to the semifinals of the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
Auger-Aliassime, from Montreal, became the youngest player to reach the top 200 since Rafael Nadal in 2002. And his progress is well ahead of the No. 245 ranking that Shapovalov held as a 17-year-old last September.
But Auger-Aliassime is less interested in one-upping his good friend as he is in improving his game.
"We both have different styles, different careers," Auger-Aliassime said on a conference call. "We’ve faced different challenges.
"Even though we’re really good friends, what the relationship does is we push each other. He motivates me to become a better player and I think I do the same for him. It’s a healthy rivalry. He’s a really good friend of mine, so there’s not anything other than that."
Shapovalov followed his Rogers Cup performance by qualifying for the U.S. Open main draw and then reaching the round of 16. His new ranking is a career-high No. 51.
The left-hander from Richmond Hill, Ont., is the youngest player currently in the top 100.
Together, Shapovalov and the righty Auger-Aliassime give Canada two of the hottest prospects in men’s tennis. They won the U.S. Open junior doubles title as a team in 2015, the same year they helped give Canada its first junior Davis Cup title.
"We’re good friends outside of tennis, but obviously we’re competitors," said Auger-Aliassime. "We’re both really hard workers.
"It just pushes us to be better players, and we want to bring Canadian tennis to another level. If we could play in the Davis Cup on the same team that would be awesome. But obviously it’s great to be part of this history with this guy."
The six-foot-three Auger-Aliassime missed the Rogers Cup with a wrist injury. He returned for the U.S. Open, where he lost a close match in the second round of qualifying to Ukrainian veteran Sergiy Stakhovsky.
After that, he headed to Europe for clay-court events. In Seville, he beat crowd favourite Inigo Cervantes in a three-set final.
It was his second Challenger-level win of the season after taking a tournament in Lyon, France in June. He became the second-youngest player to win more than one Challenger in a year after Frenchman Richard Gasquet in 2002.
Auger-Aliassime is the fourth-youngest player to break into the top 200 in the last 20 years after Gasquet, Nadal and Lleyton Hewitt, who all did it at 16. Auger-Aliassime turned 17 on Aug. 8.
This week he is at a Challenger event in Banja Luka, Bosnia, where he is to face Blaz Rola of Slovenia on Tuesday.
The young Canadian has already reset his objectives for the year.
"I kind of fixed 250 or closer to 200, but now that I’ve passed through that, now that I’m close to the top 150, maybe if I could conclude the year in the top 150 that would be a good goal," he said.